No, we're not swearing at the latest collection of casual adventures, but just about all of them involve curses of one form or another: vampires, deadly music, living dolls and hellish towns, ancient mystical artifacts, telepathic links to serial killers, witches and evil mirrors... Even the fairy tales are cursed, as many will discover in their pursuit of the Frog Prince. But what to play and what to avoid? Avoid the curse of poor decision-making by reading through our latest round-up of hidden object hybrids and make your choices wise ones.
Dying for Daylight
With Dying For Daylight, Charlaine Harris, author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels that are the inspiration behind the True Blood HBO television series, has placed her stake in the casual gaming arena. While a stake is just what the game’s main character, Dahlia Rhodes, wants to avoid at all costs, you’ll want to sink your fangs… that is, teeth, into this fun hybrid adventure set in a vampire-haunted American south. Designed by Nikitova Games under the guidance of I-Play and Creative Director Jane Jensen, you’ll play through four distinct episodes as you try to help the vampire Dahlia search for an elusive sunlight potion, which promises to give vampires the freedom to walk in daylight. The game throws several twists your way right from the start, as you’ll not only have to conduct your search amidst a vampire war raging from Louisiana to Tennessee to South Carolina, you’ll also have to deal with a pesky human who seems to be stalking you, as well as find various members of a vampire carnival troupe who can aid you in your quest.
Most of your time will be spent searching for inventory items necessary to proceed, as well as interacting with the environment to gather information, such as reading through newspapers and operating city tourism guides. When you need to detect items that are not visible to the human eye, you’ll get to use your vampire sense, which allows you to see through objects to find things like throbbing hearts and human scents. Unfortunately the game gives you no control of this special ability; it would have been a nice challenge to determine when to use this sense to find what you need. You’ll also play through a few hidden object scenes in each episode to gather items. These scenes are somewhat integrated and sufficiently spooky for a vampire story: You’ll search for pigs’ feet and roaches in a French restaurant and tickets and coins at a theater box office. You’ll also have to put objects together, like filling a jar with eyeballs or populating a miniature circus, to fulfill certain requirements. It’s too bad you’ll revisit many of the same scenes several times – a poor route for a game with so many colorful places to visit and explore, from a vampire carnival in a dark and sultry New Orleans to hog farm in Memphis and a pirate port in Charleston, South Carolina.
In addition to the inventory puzzles, Dying for Daylight throws some, but not many, logic puzzles your way, such as moving books around in a book dispenser to find the one you want (only after identifying it through cryptic clues first) or turning pipes around in a Buddha statue's stomach to complete its digestive system. Most of the puzzles are very, very easy, except for one difficult musical puzzle, which in this world’s crazy set-up involves making pigs sing tunes like “Auld Lang Syne”; not only do you have to get the correct notes as you follow sheet music, you also have to play it with correct timing. Luckily, there is a handy button that lets you skip most puzzles after waiting a certain amount of time. Elsewhere, a hint button highlights hidden objects or gives you layered hints to where and what you should be doing next. A journal also records any relevant clues and information you discover in your travels. Via the quick travel map, you can transport back-and-forth instantly between even distant locations, each of which has a few different screens to explore.
If making pigs sing sounds ludicrous on its own, it fits wonderfully into the spirit of the off-kilter vampire world that Harris has created. It’s a dark place chock full of vampires, pirates, condos for the undead, and carnie vamps. You’ll encounter a large cast of characters all fully voiced, such as Tinderbell, the seemingly innocent childlike vamp that likes to set things on fire; The Glutton, a monstrously large vamp who's doomed to crave human food that will never nourish him; and Melvis, the ghostly Elvis impersonator, among many others. The strong voice acting for Dahlia nicely complements a well-rounded character: She’s a vamp with a flair for fashion (which she’ll get to satisfy through several costume-creation scenarios) but who also won’t hesitate to threaten to rip a character’s head off rather than go on yet another fetch trip. As well told as the story is, however, the game ends without resolving the main storyline, setting itself up for a direct continuation. But if a fun and macabre story with great writing and voice acting set amidst a background of modern Southern gothic is your cup of blood… uh, tea, you’ll welcome the prospect of another installment of Dying For Daylight when you’re done.
Maestro: Music of Death
The music-based Maestro: Music of Death from ERS Game Studios is certainly not for the faint at heart. More eerie than most hidden object hybrid adventures (which comes as no surprise given the pedigree of its developer), the high-quality opening cinematic sets the tone for what is a frequently spooky affair. On the eve of a first concert by a talented young violinist, a mysterious epidemic began to spread through a town in Victorian-era Paris, causing residents to age rapidly and then suddenly die. With the town now quarantined, the presence of a macabre tune still drifting through the air as the herald of the next wave of the accursed plague makes a visit very unsettling. Players take on the role of an Inspector called in to investigate this unusual occurrence, and soon you too become entangled in these dark and mysterious events.
Your investigations take the form of hidden object tasks, inventory-based puzzles and more traditional brainteasers. Hidden object scenes are where you’ll usually acquire the most useful objects and clues as your reward for completing them, though you’ll have to revisit most of them a second time for new objects later on. As is the case in most HOG adventures, one of the objects you need to track down in each scene will be the key item required to solve your next conundrum. These scenes are very traditional and for the most part fairly straightforward, though some items need to be interacted with before you can uncover the objects listed, such as opening a toolbox or removing a cloth. But on the easier difficulty setting, these are always marked by an intermittent sparkle, which ends up making the task simpler than finding the standard items. Hints are given freely in these scenes, although they take some time to recharge, and players are barely punished for incorrect clicks, with the cursor merely disappearing for a few seconds.
Many of the brainteaser-style puzzles are related to locked doors, where the successful completion of a mechanical puzzle will open a gate, for example. These take the form of memory games, sliding blocks and sequencing puzzles that demand restoring mixed up items in their correct order. Few of these are likely to keep you stumped for long, and simple trial and error will almost always suffice when you get stuck, but before long the option to skip the puzzle completely becomes available. As you’d expect, there are several music-related puzzles to solve but none require a good ear. The inventory-based puzzles are slightly more complex than many HOG adventures, sometimes requiring a combination of several items in specific locations to build a more useful object. The items you collect as you go are all quite logical, though, whether it's useful tools or missing pieces of incomplete puzzles, and your lateral thinking is unlikely to be tasked greatly. To help you further, a journal keeps track of all relevant clues and information, and the Collector’s Edition even provides a built-in strategy guide for those who need it.
If this all sounds very run-of-the-mill, what really sets the game apart is its disturbing tone and atmosphere. As you explore the deserted town, its cemetery, and the catacombs beneath it, Maestro’s art, sound effects and music blend effectively to put players on the edge of their seats. The graphics are hand-drawn and attractive, and many haunting animations occur as you explore, from spectral visions to crackling lightning in the stormy night sky. Voices are used for the few supporting characters, which keeps you immersed in their stories, like a mother begging for your help to find her lost daughter. Music is key to both the game’s mystery and its sinister feel, as traditional string and woodwind-based tunes portray both melancholy and tension, violins straining as the action becomes even more intense. The main game ends with a satisfying (if not altogether resolved) conclusion, and the Collector’s Edition offers an extra chapter that picks up immediately afterwards, providing nearly an hour of additional gameplay. This introduces a few new locations to explore and another layer of closure, though it also leaves the door wide open for a sequel. Perhaps the Music of Death hasn’t claimed its last victim after all.Continued on the next page...
Platform(s): Mac, PC
Platform(s): iPad, iPhone/iPod Touch, Mac, PC
Platform(s): Mac, PC